Environmentalists’ agenda takes centre stage amid LS polls - Hindustan Times
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Environmentalists’ agenda takes centre stage amid LS polls

BySiddharth Gadkari
Apr 11, 2024 05:08 AM IST

According to VTBKS, we are headed towards a water catastrophe like Bengaluru where unplanned urbanisation and concretisation has led to a severely depleted groundwater table

The proposed Balbharati-Paud Phata Road has become a bone of contention ahead of the Lok Sabha (LS) polls, with the Vetal Tekdi Bachav Kruti Samiti (VTBKS) – a group of citizens dedicated to preserving Vetal Tekdi, one of Pune’s last remaining green areas – releasing a ‘Citizen Manifesto’ outlining three key focus areas namely water sustainability, saving the hill, and improving public transportation for elected LS representatives.

Pune already has a water crisis with many areas dependent upon tankers, and societies paying upwards of <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>1 crore annually for water from tankers. (HT PHOTO)
Pune already has a water crisis with many areas dependent upon tankers, and societies paying upwards of 1 crore annually for water from tankers. (HT PHOTO)

According to VTBKS, we are headed towards a water catastrophe like Bengaluru where unplanned urbanisation and concretisation has led to a severely depleted groundwater table. Pune already has a water crisis with many areas dependent upon tankers, and societies paying upwards of 1 crore annually for water from tankers. According to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM), around 4,000 million cubic feet (TMC) of water consumed in the city is from groundwater which is one-third of the water supply.

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In its manifesto, the samiti has demanded that the Pune LS representatives ensure that central government policies and schemes on groundwater management such as aquifer mapping (National Aquifer Mapping and Management Programme or NAQUIM) are implemented in the city and coordinated with development plans so that recharge zones are not built over for roads or buildings. Pune needs a sustainable approach to urban groundwater management which should be based on the scientific principle of ‘managed aquifer recharge’ along with the scientific implementation of public recharge systems. Open amenity spaces must be protected as sources of groundwater recharge.

Sushma Date, a member of VTBKS and Deccan Gymkhana Parisar Samiti, said, “The Vetal Tekdi complex provides a natural rainwater catchment area of about 800 hectares and hosts a system of aquifers with an estimated total potential groundwater storage of 5.5 mm3. These hill tops and hill slopes must be protected as ‘groundwater recharge sanctuaries’ according to the recommendations of ACWADAM.”

Amay Jagtap, another member of VTBKS, said, “The manmade forests on our hills provide important benefits like preservation of precious biodiversity, improvement of air quality, carbon sequestration, increase in groundwater recharge, mitigation of the ‘heat island’ effect, and provision of green space for physical exercise and fostering psychological wellbeing. Our LS representative should lead the state and local administration to scrap the three projects planned through the main tekdis of Pune – the Balbharati Road, HCMTR Ring Road that cuts through three hills, and the two tunnels from Panchavati – as they come at the cost of water, clean air and their temperature cooling effect on the surrounding parts of the city. All three projects, which will cause extensive permanent damage to our tekdis and our city, are aimed at encouraging private vehicles, which is against the National Urban Transport Policy as well as the Comprehensive Mobility Plan for the city.”

The proposed, 2.1 km-long Balbharati-Paud Phata Road was first suggested in the PMC’s 2007 development plan. Ever since, it has faced opposition from environmentalists and citizens who believe it will harm the city’s greenery, especially since it passes through Vetal Tekdi.

The VTBKS manifesto further said that the Pune LS representatives should coordinate for completing the current Metro construction work at the earliest, expanding the Metro routes to cover the outskirts, and improving last mile connectivity by connecting the Metro with buses and autos. The representatives should also pledge to make PMPML the mainstay of Pune transportation by doing whatever it takes to improve the authority’s modal share from the present 10 to 12% to about 25 to 30% in five to six years. The target should be to add 3,000 buses to the PMPML fleet in five years. The fleet would need support in the form of depots and bus stations complete with shelters, signages etc. A charging station network for electric buses would be needed too and so also sufficient budgetary support to the PMC to complete this work in two to three years on a priority basis.

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